22 “Animals blind or made infirm and weak or maimed, or having sores or a wen [running sore] or an itch or scabs, you shall not offer to the Lord or make an offering of them by fire upon the altar to the Lord….
24 You shall not offer to the Lord any animal which has its testicles bruised or crushed or broken or cut, neither sacrifice it in your land.”
I was in the pasture one day with my then 13-year-old daughter, Sheri, checking on the sheep and tending to their needs. We had lambs of a variety of ages at the time: some were little newborns, the cute, “Easter lamb” looking kind; some were several months old, looking like bigger, stronger lambs; some a year old or more, looking like small sheep; then of course an adult ram, Isaac, and 15 or so adult ewes. Since Easter was approaching, Sheri and I started discussing what the Bible said about what constituted an “acceptable sacrifice” according to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. To give ourselves some insight into what that would have been like to participate in that as shepherds, we decided to run down the list of our flock members, and try to determine which sheep would have fit the requirements, if we lived in that time. In Exodus 12:5, God told Moses the Passover lambs had to be “ … a male of the first year…”
“What do you think about Isaac?” I asked Sheri, to get our brainstorming flowing. “Would he fit the bill?”
“No,” Sheri said. “Remember, when he was a lamb, his foot was injured and it is still deformed. He walks just fine with no limp, so he isn’t ‘lame’, but that’s a blemish. Probably counts as “maimed”. Plus, his scurs (small horns) are always broken from head butting with the younger rams. The text doesn’t say anything about horns, but the broken scur is kinda scabbed over, and I wonder if broken horn might count as maimed? Since he’s our breeding ram, he’s too old to fit the Passover requirement. Anyway, what about David? He’s the right age, and we haven’t castrated him.”
“No,” I said. “David had that fever, and it caused his fleece to break. His wool is coming out in clumps. That counts as “infirm and weak” I think. What about Beaux Truffle?”
Beaux Truffle is a solid chocolate-brown sheep, with two tones to his fleece. His belly is a pretty blonde color.
“I know he is brown,” I said, “but when we looked at the text, it didn’t say anything about “color” being a blemish, just sores and injuries. Nothing said the sheep had to be pure white in color.”
“That’s good, since so many of ours have a little spot of brown color somewhere on them. Most of our ‘white’ sheep aren’t only white. But still, Beaux Truffle won’t work,” Sheri said. “He is always backing himself up to a tree or fence to rub his butt back and forth to scratch. He must have an itch, so that doesn’t fit. How about Joseph, or Bernard?”
“Nope. We castrated both of them. That counts as “testicles bruised or crushed or broken or cut”. That will disqualify any wether (castrated ram). Plus I noticed Joseph has some scratches on his legs that have scabbed over. He must have found a patch of thorns to walk thru recently. And yesterday when I checked Bernard’s eye mucosa, it was pale pink so he was a little anemic. I had to give him de-wormer and a dose of iron. That puts him back in the “infirm” category anyway.” I replied.
“Well who does that leave us then?” Sheri said. “We’re running out of ram-lambs under a year old.”
We love all our sheep for their individual personalities, merits, and memories we have of their lives. None of these issues made them necessarily undesirable to us in our flock. But it was becoming clear God’s Word says the sacrificial system for our cleansing of sin and reconciliation to God was Not to be a clearing house for getting rid of the animals in your flock there was something wrong with! I could understand the temptation it could have been: if you had to get rid of an animal anyway, the one you would naturally want to choose would be the one you would least want to keep. But what God called for was the exact opposite.
“Oh, no,” I said, my heart suddenly sinking. “That just leaves us Woolfred.”
“No!” Sheri exclaimed. “Not ‘The Kracken’!! I love The Kracken.”
We called Woolfred ‘The Kracken’, because when it was feeding time, or whenever we would ‘release The Kracken’ from a stall, he charged forth with such gusto, we knew to jump out of the way! He was vigorous, full of life, strong and healthy. We had not castrated him or docked his long tail. He had gorgeous wool, and bright eyes. I hoped to breed him one day, because he came from a good line and would make great, strong, healthy lambs, that could grow up to make good fleece or breeding stock we could sell, or use to increase our flock. Since Woolfred was “a male of the first year,” in our flock, he had Isaac to compete with, so he hadn’t bred any ewes yet. Sacrificing him would mean we would never get to see the healthy lambs he could make, or have any more than his one, first year’s lamb fleece. The full quality of a sheep’s fleece isn’t seen for at least a year or two, until they come into fuller maturity. It would mean loss of potential of a perfectly beautiful animal that held so much promise.
Sheri and I were both glad it was just a thought experiment we’d been discussing, but it made us realize the meaning of the sacrifice requirements. The one from the flock you would have to give up, to be reconciled to God, would be a really good one; one you’d probably rather keep for making more strong, healthy sheep. It could cause a real sense of loss for the one offering it from his own flock. It would feel sad.
If the flock were very small, it would also have to have been done as an act of faith that God would honor the sacrifice, and bless the flock with more strong, healthy rams that could still prosper the flock in future, even without the one sacrificed. Not being able to have a larger, healthy flock translated into not enough wool for clothes or blankets; not enough meat, milk or cheese for food; not enough stock or products to be able to sell for enough income. So sacrificing the best one, meant sacrificing both the potential and supply of the animal. An act of faith & sacrifice indeed, for the small flock owner!
It made the insight suddenly alive for me, of how participating in that sacrificial system before the birth of Christ, could have potentially given one a tiny taste of the way God would feel about His Own sacrifice that He would make on our behalf at the crucifixion, which also occurred at Passover. In God’s mandate of the sacrificial system (before Christ fulfilled that law), He gave those who followed it a real-life experience illustrating the cost of their sins, and of the cost to God it would be to pay to reconcile them to Himself, imbedded in the act of sacrifice itself!
John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world”! (John 1:29) Jesus was the strong, healthy One; the One nothing was wrong with, not one little thing; the One God the Father most wanted to keep. The One with more potential than anyone could ever have. God sacrificed both the full potential and “supply” of Jesus’ continued physical ministry on Earth. Because what He wanted even more than to spare Jesus from the suffering of the cross, was a restored relationship with us! Each of us is so valuable to Him, He considered even such a high price to be worth the cost. So God let His precious Son go to the cross, a Lamb from a flock of only One. God did it, and Jesus did it, as an act of faith in the Resurrection, Jesus’ victory over death. Because of it, we all have access to enjoy the potential and supply of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and look forward to Jesus’ forever reign.
You are ALREADY valuable to God, just as you are. He loves you so much, you don’t have to worry about being “good enough”. You are worth His payment for your sins. You don’t have to hide, or worry about being worthy. Thru Jesus, you already are.
by Kelli Carruth-Miller